By Adam Bojar (Tenchfishers Member, SW Region)
My winter angling campaigns started in the early 1980’s when I was really into carp fishing, well before the days of the bivvy, bed chairs and decent sleeping bags! The only plus side was the availability of the “Heron Bite Indicator” to enable you to get a few hours kip. So you could say anything now is luxury, but I am now several years older and would rather my winter venture to be enjoyable and not a test of endurance! During these early winter pursuit days, the waters were relatively empty, with only a select few believing that carp could be caught in the winter. These days, winter carp fishing is more popular, with some waters now busy throughout the year.
It was whilst I was pike fishing into dark late one evening, that I thought about seriously fishing for tench throughout the whole winter. Would it work? Could it be done? Would it be worth it? Whilst I had good success fishing for carp in the winter, my old tatty log books (and tatty memory) revealed that very few accidental tench had graced the icy landing net.
And so the experiment began. This was going to be different; this was going to be undertaken under semi scientific conditions, with few variables and finite “constants”. This winter I was going fishing to purely capture data, and probably, with all the restrictions I was to limit myself with, data would be the only thing I would catch! This data would be used for future winter sessions, and more than likely, to prove that it’s not worth fishing for tench in the winter.
Selecting A Venue
Select one that you are familiar with, close to home and easy to get to. Make sure you have no problems with tickets/permits, as often you may wish to turn up or pack up on the “spur of the moment” (especially the latter, when the weather really does unexpectedly deteriorate). If possible, at first, try and choose an “easy” tench water – if there is such a thing. Visit the place as often as you can (without your gear), particularly at dusk, you will be surprised how many fish show throughout the winter. I strongly believe that location is the single biggest factor of winter tench fishing, if you see fish moving, head for that area, but be prepared to move swims if the fish do.
A single swim on two different waters (close to home) were selected; Pond 1, which held a stock of, albeit small tench in the 2lb- 6lb bracket and a few carp. Pond 2, containing tench in the 5lb – 7lb range, together with several bream to 7lb. At both venues, I needed to guarantee swim choice and undertake regular “controlled baiting”, for my experiment. The ponds I selected were not “easy waters”, but I considered that if the tench would not play, I would at least have a chance with the odd Carp or a few bream, to keep up my interests and spirits.
Select the swims from your current knowledge and don’t be afraid to try the summer “banker” swims. I have no problems in picking swims close to the car park, as it will make it easier for you if you undertake a pre-baiting campaign and lessen the walk with your gear! If you plan to fish the same swim(s) throughout the winter, consider the rise in water levels and whether the swim will still be fishable in the latter part of winter. Make sure the swim is big and comfortable enough for your bivvy, your 2,3 or 4 rods, and check whether it’s safe, particularly when it’s frosty/muddy and wet, in the dark! Finally, and most importantly, try and select a swim that will provide you with most opportunities to present your baits, such as plopping one into the margins and casting others to fish in a deep hole, an old weed bed, to silt bottoms/gravel bars, etc. Fish each rod to a differing area/feature to maximise your chances of locating a feeding fish. I am still finding that a higher percentage of my captures are from shallow water, but am catching in the deep too.
Next decision to be made was swim choice. These had to be carefully considered, as the obvious option was to select the “known/popular” swims. But, I thought, if people heard I was catching, they may visit these swims and ruin my scientific experiment, and more annoyingly, “cash in on my hard work!” A single “not too popular” swim was to be selected on each pond, and these would be on either the East or North facing banks, to make the most of any warm South Westerly winds throughout the winter. ( may be harder to do in 2022, article was written in quieter times. Editor)
Both swims had to be similar in features. On Pond 1, the closest swim to the car park was selected on the East bank, with a gravel margin of about 4ft of water then a steep slope to a 14ft deep flat silt bottom at about 10yds out. I had caught tench from this swim before in early season from the bottom of the slope.
On Pond 2, I selected a swim on the northern end of the lake at the pinch point to the entrance of a widened gully. I considered any prevailing wind would push debris, food, and oxygenated water through this 10yd wide “pinch point” and on into the gulley. This swim had a gentle slope down to 9ft of water at the bottom of the “V” in the middle of the pinch point. To the left of the swim, I located a plateau of silt, about 30yds out in 14ft of water. Three rods would be used in each swim with baits positioned one in the gravel margin in 4ft of water, one two thirds way down the slope in about 9ft of water and one at the bottom of the slope in 14ft of water in Pond 1. In Pond 2, I would try and replicate this by placing one in 4ft of water in the sloping margin, one at the bottom of the “V” in 9ft and one on the 14ft deep plateaux.
I prefer to keep it simple and where a predominance of small silver fish or perch are not a problem, I prefer to use maggots, combined with a maggot feeder and on other rods, a single grain of corn, as it is very “visual” on the leafy/chod bottom with a very small mesh stick (about the size of an elongated walnut) containing low oil micro pellet. I never throw in any additional free offerings throughout the session, as I think I am after single opportune feeders, rather than creating competitive feeding environment.
in my view does work and this is undertaken on a little and often basis. I limit my pre-baiting to using maggots and a single small handful of micro pellet in the same spots in the same swim at regular intervals, every 2-3 days and most importantly, if possible, at the same time of day. I take a rod with a small spod, which has several marker “stop knots” set to the areas that I need to cast towards in one swim and a differing colour stop knots for another swim. This enables bait to be introduced into exactly the same spots, every time. Sometimes marching to the swim, in the rain, straight from work, in my suit and guided by my head torch, clutching a bucket and a spod rod, I do wander if it’s worth it, and I really do assure you, it is.
Bait choice would be red maggots on the hook and pre-baiting would be undertaken on a little and often basis with, low oil micro pellet and dead maggots. The all-important pre-baiting, designed to condition the tench, commenced in November and continued throughout the winter on a minimum twice per week basis. The ponds are approx 20 mins from my house and pre-baiting was undertaken in each swim at approx 18:00 –19:00 in the evenings on my detour route from work to home! The quantity of bait going into each location in each swim consisted of two handfuls/small spod loads of micro pellet and whatever dead maggots I had left over from the previous sessions.
After three pre-baiting sessions, I did a short evening session on Pond 1, I hooked into a fish and it was off the hook within 5 seconds. Was it an eel? Or was it a tench? I packed up before midnight, angry with myself that I had missed a potential fish. I was using maggot feeders on a paternoster type rig with an 18inch, 4lb BS hook link, with double maggot on a size 16.
The next session came two nights later, this time on Pond 2. Even though I had action a few days earlier on Pond 1, this was still an experiment and I promised myself that I would fish alternate ponds each session, even though I stopped by to bait up and look at Pond 1 on the way through, temptation did not get the better of me!
Rigs and Tackle
You must be very organised, minimalist, and keep most in the car. This now applies to me all year round. I have my rods always set up in a quiver, ready to go, with only hook links to attach upon arrival. Take a couple of torches and spare batteries. Quickly setting up and tackling down is essential, and easy to do in the dark, after the first few sessions.
In December, I changed all my rods to my summer rigs, consisting of 10lb X-line mainline, with a large DIY adapted Drennan Oval maggot feeder to fish in-line and a size 10 Iseama C5 on a 3” 15lb Amnesia hook link. The hook had an enterprise rubber maggot as an aligner and 4 red maggots straight on the hook. What a crude looking method, but confidence in this rig was high (and still is!!), each rod was cast into the carefully selected areas of the swim and fished all night. I blanked. And so the experiment had well and truly begun!
From the end of November to the first week in March I fished a total of 11 all nighters (down to temperatures of –3oC) and 4 evening sessions. I still kept the two handfuls of pellet going in on an at least a twice a week basis. I still fished the same two swims, but after January only fished the swim in Pond 2, which held the larger tench.
In my first winter I ended up with a total of 13 tench, best being a 7:05 female which was the only action on a night session in late January. Most fish caught were between the 4 –6lb mark.
I am convinced that the regular pre baiting, undertaken at approximately the same time in the evenings, also aided my captures, as 10 out of the 13 tench caught, came out between 18:00 and 21:30.
I threw in 2 handful’s of micro pellet at the start of each session and after each capture, no other bait was introduced during the session, apart from what was in the maggot feeder which I recast every 3 hours or so because the maggots were so slow to exit!
Interestingly, this was the first ever season I had not hooked into a carp or bream throughout the winter, just tench! But the most interesting discovery of the “experiment” is that on each occasion I fished, with baits placed in the different depths of water, I never had a run on the deepest rod, which I thought would be the “banker” rod. 2 tench were caught from the slope in about 9ft water and all of the rest (11 tench) came from the margins of both ponds, less than a rod length out in 4ft of water. This was the most startling discovery I made that first winter and has now changed my whole approach to winter tench fishing.
I had a target to catch a tench every month throughout that year and achieved this and more. I ended up catching tench each month for 35 consecutive months, on a variety of waters throughout the winter periods, to prove to myself the first year was not just a fluke.
If you are considering in embarking in a winter tench venture, I hope my experience below may be of some assistance:
If possible try both days and nights, not all waters are the same. I tend to fish nights, only because I can’t usually do days! Although I have caught through the day, I do think that tench become nocturnal throughout the colder months. If you undertake a pre-baiting campaign, aim to do this at the same time of day (eg. same time in mornings or evenings but not both!) and try to go fishing at these very same times.
In my early years of winter tench fishing I really did scale down, using lighter lines and smaller hooks. Although I caught, I experimented with my summer rigs and am now fully confident in using my summer rigs throughout the winter (3 inch, 15lb fluro/combi hook-links and size 10 wide gape hooks!). Confidence is a big factor in all forms of angling so always use what works for you. Where permitted and safe to do so (for both the fish welfare and myself), I use 3 or 4 rods, all cast in different places/depths/features to maximise my chances of finding the fish. Keep exploring the water and try differing swims, you need to find the tench, as they won’t find you.
It can be very lonely and monotonous fishing in the winter, but when you do find the location of the fish and start to catch, particularly in extreme weathers, it really is rewarding and satisfying, with an overwhelming huge sense of achievement. One of my favourite angling photos of all time, is of my good angling friend Paul Kelly, with tench a in the snow. My ambition is to one day replicate that, for that has to be the one of the finest and rarest moments in tench fishing.
Editors Note. This is an edited version of an article that appeared in our book Tinca Tinca published in 2013 – the publication is available as an e-book currently.